Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Peeking out

Headed back north today. Lovely cousinarama is over, causing actual tears from Katy. Nod and I are finally reaping the physical effects of our overindulgence. So hoping the drive isn't too hard. Welcome welcome new year, come gently.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Candied Orange Peel

It's not quite Christmas so I'm squeaking in my entry in Bee's virtual candy exchange. Here's my take on candied citrus peel. I was inspired by Anapestic's amazing orange blossoms. But having neither dry red wine nor 20 cardamom pods on hand, I decided to try my own variant with ginger root and cinnamon. You can come up with your own spicing or just use plain sugar syrup. My husband and I love this stuff, our kids think it's too bitter. I'm going to give some as presents when we're in Austin for the holidays.

The broad outline is: citrus peel is boiled several times to cut its bitterness and make the pith easier to remove. Then it's simmered in syrup, drained, rolled in sugar and dried.

Ingredients:
Peel from 8 oranges (score outside of orange with a knife to get large sections of peel, either thirds or quarters)

Syrup:
4 cups sugar
2 cups water
Slice of ginger root, peeled
1 cinnamon stick

Sugar and cinnamon for rolling

Put peels in large pan with water to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 min. Drain. Repeat two more times. This can be done over several days, just toss the peels in the refrigerator in between. After the third boil drain and cool the peels. Scrape off the white pith with a spoon. Only get what comes off easily, don't worry about getting it all off, the peels will be too thin and fragile if you scrape it all. Slice peels in long 3/4" strips or whatever pattern you like. Anapestic got fancy with a little flower shaped cookie cutter.

Prepare the syrup by bringing the sugar, water, ginger root and cinnamon stick to a boil. Cook on low boil for 5 to 10 minutes. Add sliced peels, stir to cover, and bring back to a simmer. Simmer uncovered for about an hour. Drain the peels and cool. Keep cinnamon stick for another use, discard ginger root and set the syrup aside in case needed later (see * below). When peels are cool enough to handle, put a cup or so of sugar in a shallow bowl and whisk in a tsp of cinnamon. Roll each piece in cinnamon sugar and place on foil lined cookie sheet.

You can air dry the peels or use the oven. I recommend just leaving the cookie sheets in the oven for a day or two, without turning it on. I dried one batch for several hours at 170 degrees and they got too hard, shattering when you took a bite. *I put those peels in a pan and poured the reserved syrup over them for a day and a half. I drained them again, dredged in cinnamon sugar and air dried. And they turned out perfect.

Happy candy making.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Oh Maple Leaf

I tried to catch up on Canadian politics this morning. I heard something about the Queen suspending Parliament and wanted to know what was up, up north. So here are the fruits of my web surfing. First a Canadian political word definition: “prorogue” means to suspend or send home parliament. Maybe this is a word used for all parliamentary democracies but as I was never a poli sci buff, it was new to me.

Here is a knitting blogger who wrote a very readable piece on what the status was at the beginning of December. And here is a Canadian writer for Slate.com who gives a nice explanation along with the news that the Governor General (Queen Elizabeth’s appointed representative) went ahead and prorogued parliament until late January at the request of PM Harper. This gives him more time to try and get more support so he can remain prime minister.

Oh and here’s the Globe and Mail’s political page for a more newspapery source.

It sounds as though the financial crisis and worries are just breaking over Canada now, in slower motion than in the US. It makes me wonder about their newspaper/journalism situation too. Is it as dire as here? I am a little worried about living in a post newspaper world. I refuse to watch television news except for weather. I will continue to pick up news online in scraps. But I would like some fairly dispassionate authorities out there writing news. Perhaps a billionaire could take that on. Patronage journalism?

Happy reading.

Some To Done

And for yesterday's to do list, here's my score: one and three quarters out of 9!! My big fat 1 is that I shoveled the walks. And that gave me the right to pitch the rest of the items out the window anyway. But hark! I didn't stop there. I did all sorts of things not even on my list.

It was a good day yesterday. I left work early because I had to go get children on the slidy roads and wanted as little competition for those roads as possible. The worst part of the driving was getting out of my parking lot so I was pleased that we didn't have to slip all the way home. Once home the kids played in the snow while I shoveled. Shoveling tired my back out but I didn't pull any muscles. And it was lovely time, in the quiet white. It wasn't windy and it was cold but not terrible. I wished I had a sleigh to ride in.

I walked to the grocery store and got ginger root and ground ginger (now I'm armed). I say that's one quarter of a to-do item done, since I needed ginger for the orange peels and for my gingerbread cookies. I made supper and the children ate it. I paid some bills. I bathed the children. I cooked the pork for a sauerkraut soup I'm going to make (I predict that no one will eat that but me). Another half of a to-do item: I simmered the orange peels twice and scraped the pith.

God I was productive. Good thing I left a few more things for the rest of the week.

Pulling my head out for a moment, I will point you toward a quick blog post discussion of poetry. It contains a free interpretation of a Rilke poem that is interesting. I think I would like to read some Rilke but ideally I would also read some pungent context setting material as well. Can I get that at Target? (Edited to correct my spelling of Rilke, I always want to put another 'l' before the 'k'.)

Snew day

Two lists, inspired by today’s posts from Jonniker and the Belgian Waffle.

To do list
1. Address the Christmas card envelopes. I know that if I do this part, it’s almost done. I may try to write a little something that I can copy into each card. I’m aiming for a few sentences that give the flavor of what our lives are like but skew funnier or fancier. And plenty of sincerity of course.

2. Candy the orange peels. I’ve been collecting them in the fridge and it’s time to get them sugarified. Oh crap now I’ve remembered that I need to acquire gingerroot for this.

3. Shovel the sidewalks. If I close my eyes and believe in fairies, maybe my spouse will have done this before I can get to it. It’s snowing like billy-o this morning. If I actually do this one, I reserve the right to not get anything else done.

4. Set aside a growing feeling of panic and make a short achievable Christmas gift list for the eight people I need to buy for. That’s not impossible and most of those are adults who don’t get much any way.

5. Make gingerbread cookie dough. I’ve decided to mail some gingerbread cookies to my mom. That and kid pictures are what she’s getting for Christmas. But I do have her birthday present ready. Yay me and my concern for my mother’s feelings.

6. Buy a pack of gum per the Tooth Fairy’s instructions. Katy got her top front tooth pulled yesterday at the doctor’s office. It was flopping around and almost ready to fall out. But even so, she said it bled a lot after the pull. Nod said he could tell our doctor was disconcerted by the amount of gore. Of course it stopped after a few minutes. And Katy couldn’t be happier. The Tooth Fairy, after refusing to go out in the cold last night, left her 75 cents and an IOU for gum.

7. Download the pictures from our rickety camera. I think there are Katy’s birthday pictures and probably other important things on there. Or maybe it’s all dross but I must download in order to know.

8. Call the Danish up for a chat.

9. Don’t stay up too late lest horror and despair set in.

Things I am happy about
1. Getting to work on time even though the roads were full of the slippy snow. I wore my boots and my windshield wipers worked. (One very cold morning last week I turned them on while they were still frozen to the windshield. After a lurch they pulled up and started wiping. But they weren’t making good contact and the windshield was only partially cleared. I thought I would have to have someone work on them. Thank the void they healed themselves.)

2. How thrilled Katy is with her gappy smile and her slight lisp (she tends to call it a ‘lips’).

3. Our new roof = snug.

4. Bloggers who write stuff for me to read every day for free! Writing that makes me laugh, cry and wonder at humanity. I am grateful.

5. Discovering a stylish detective series from Australia. I’m enjoying Phryne Fisher.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Sloth Rampant

I didn't leap out of bed this morning when the radio came on. But I did get up shortly thereafter. First I listened to the NPR morning guy (sorry, can't remember) interview one of their Chicago announcers, Scott Simon, about the Blagojevic scandal. At the end of the piece he said there was something about this story that brings the roses to your cheeks. I would have to agree. I think it's because it's so black and white, no irritating nuances. Also Gov. B. seemed to think he could get away with acting like a mafia boss. It's always entertaining to see that kind of presumption smacked down.

Got to work on time this morning and everything. It was a little less cold last night, that helped. This week everyone in my family has been wanting to sleep late. It's hard to get going when the reptile brain says wait until the sun comes out. We've made it to December 12th, only nine more days til Solstice! The older I get the more I feel circadian. I think early in my life winter blues just got mistaken for other kinds of stress and blues. Now I can feel it clearly. I wanted to go to sleep at 9pm every night this week. And I ate too many cookies. But I have tried to eat my fruits and veggies too and have gotten at least a minimum of exercise. And I decided that resuming a morning coffee habit is indicated. So sloth is held at bay for now.

Lexi's preschool pictures are amazing. It's fun when that happens.

Natter natter. Glad to be at the end of this quiet slow moving week.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Cockles and Glitz

The huge xmas tree picture above is not my tree but another lovely blogger's from a year or two ago. It's my first header attempt, clearly I'll have to learn to crop something to fit there. Like Bee I believe in a Christmas tree hung with family treasures, ornaments that mean something and don't all match and get bought in one box together. And is there anything better than lying under a tree and looking up, dazzled with the shiny, smelling the piney goodness?

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"Warming the cockles of your heart"

I found two discussions of this phrase at websites of dubious authority. Both mentioned the shellfish cockles and the flower. Both thought that maybe the shape of the chambers of the heart was thought to be like shellfish by primitive anatomists. What rot. I’ve always assumed that the cockles of your heart are the little metaphorical coals of your heart. They grow dim and ash over sometimes. But when stirred up and blown on, glow brightly and warm you throughout.

After looking at the OED definitions I think that there are three likely origins of the phrase, none of them as pleasing as my own above. The first two metaphors, are the least interesting and are based on the shellfish. 1) is that the cockles of your heart are indeed the chambers of your heart, somewhat sort of slightly perhaps shaped a little like bivalves. 2) is that they are the far edges of your heart, wrinkled like a cockleshell. Metaphor number 3) is that the cockles are stoves, iron chambers that need to be warmed. Why would one need more than one metaphorical heart stove?! Humbug. There was nothing to suggest that cockles could refer to little pieces of coals or embers. Drat!

Wait! there is a fourth one that I like a bit more: cockle can refer to the little black seeds of the corn cockle flower. I like thinking of the little black seeds in my heart getting warmed. If they get warmed too much maybe they could pop like popcorn!

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Our Christmas tree is up awaiting lights and glitz. The girls came with me to the hardware store parking lot. (Unfortunately not the hardware store across the street, that would be too much to ask for.) And after looking at the long needled variety (white pine?) and the shorter needled variety (Scotch pine) found my favorites (firs!) and Katy and Lexi agreed on the best specimen (on sale!). The high school boys sawed a bit of the trunk off and squooshed it into the hatchback and we were off. It took about twenty minutes. When we took the tree into the sunroom, Katy was indignant that I wanted to wait for her father's help to move the heaviest couch in the world. I told her that we adults would get it set up after the kids were asleep and she could see it in the morning. She offered and offered her help but I told her she just couldn't help with that one. After I tucked her in and gave her a kiss she told me, "*Please* get the tree set up." Katy may be a good delegater when she grows up. Lexi last night was singing the entirety of the 12 Days of Christmas as she put up some decorations with pictures and lyrics on them. She has a cold and it was very cute to me to hear her singing with her stuffy intonation. She also kept saying 'milking maids' instead of maids-a-milking.

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Our Christmas card photo is done. Taken on Sunday after getting home from church and lunch downtown. Nod had a splitting headache and I think it helped him submit more docilely to the procedure. The kids were fairly charming except for the mad rush to look at the camera screen after each attempt. I now officially hate the light blue turtleneck sweater I was wearing. But it’s done. I selected the wrong shot to get twenty copies of at the drug store. (It’s the one where Lexi looks a little stoned, Katy looks smug and I look extra chinny. Nod looks exactly the same since he was holding very still due to his pounding head.) But now I've found the correct shot, and picked a border to cover up the electrical outlets that were flanking us. I'll pick them up tonight. I think it’s okay. I swear I will take our picture in November next year.

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I apologize for the murky description of potential supervillany in my last post. I don't feel able to discuss it any more openly and it may not be the upheaval I fear. More news as it happens rather than as I wildly speculate.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Super blips

The random blips continue.

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Thailand update. Okay, The Guardian (found via link from 3QuarksDaily.com) has given me an article which answers one of my questions. Here's a paragraph to explain why the Thai protesters (PAD) who shut down the airport are agitating against one-man-one-vote:

...the PAD therefore continues to find fault not only with Thaksin Shinawatra and his allies but also with the rural population that continues to elect them: the movement's leaders have gone so far as to call the rural poor too ignorant and uneducated to vote in the country's best interest. It is class warfare in the guise of political reform. Their seizure of Bangkok's airports was a power-grab for the country's conservative business and royalist elites, and an incendiary rejection of the electoral voices of the rural poor, who have elected Thaksin and his successors repeatedly and overwhelmingly for close to a decade now – and will probably do so again when fresh elections are held early next year.

So the majority keeps voting in Thaksin's puppets and the PAD are furious. So they want to take the vote into their own hands. No easy answers there.

I also learned that lese majeste (sorry, no accents today) is still prosecuted in Thailand. I have been confusing lese majeste with noblesse oblige all my life. So I learned the correct definition, injury to majesty - basically a serious insult to the crown, as well.

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I had to move the office Christmas cookies off my desk today. They were banned to our break room so I would stop hoovering them. The problem was that there were lots of different types. My grazing instinct was telling me that it would be good to eat one of each kind. Gah! I will try to save room for my favorite cookies and not snack so much on the run of the mill sort.

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What if my husband accepts a job with Lex Luthor? It's becoming more of a possibility. Nod's promised to have one or two of his attorney friends take a look at the employment contract, should one materialize. Okay, so this guy's not actually a super villain. But he's extremely rich, powerful and, according to anecdote, vindictive to those who cross him. When I was told the sum that this person might plunk down to buy Nod's talents I laughed so hard I fell on the floor. I cried, it was quite a refreshing laugh. It was just very unexpected. If this comes to pass (a seasonal phrase) everything is on the table. We'll have to decide whether and when and where to move. We'll be able to get rid of this too-much-for-us house. It would make for an unexpected and complicated upturn in our prospects. I'm already mourning this town. No idea if it will actually happen. Nod is proceeding with his various irons in the fire, knowing that the possibility is there but nothing we can count on. If a check and an employment contract appear, they will be accepted, barring mafia strings. And then we'll see what life with Lex is like.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Odds bods

NaBloPoMo (posting every day in November) is all very well. But I am not enjoying the first week of December backlash. There’s not much posting going on out there. Slacker bloggers – get posting!

Maybe I am that person at work. I was just stirring the sugar into my plain yogurt. I eat this every day. It was making small glurpy sounds. And I got all self conscious wondering if my coworkers abhor my yogurt habits. Then I felt hungry again and forgot about worrying. I love being in my 40s.

A few random writing idea crumbs. External framing/structure for fiction: twelve months. The temptation is to get all circulary. But it wouldn’t have to be that or any seasonal reflections at all. Just handy slots to put the action in and let the reader know it was getting along. Seems like I knew once, but what is a book of the hours? Doomsday book? I love the sensation of being hustled along by a book as a reader, whipped up to a gallop.

Time to go already. I put up the office xmas decor today. It's a bit drab but not bad. Yay for little colored lights. I tried to be logical and decided we wouldn't get a cut tree for home. But am too pouty! Must have tree!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Candles

Lexi burst into tears last night when after finishing dinner Katy blew out all the candles before Lexi could blow any out. So I relit one just for her. Sharing and fairness -- they're not easy, are they? I was going to say that they are not natural impulses but I don't believe that. Just not powerful enough impulses to make it easy to do. After getting to blow out the candle, Lexi's tears stopped. Thank goodness. That child has a powerful wail.

Total number of visits to the Episcopal church = 1. Number of family members who want to go back = 4. That number really surprises me, but how nice. It's a beautiful church and we were welcomed. I'm trying not to overthink it but will report if we keep going. I didn't take communion. Nod did, turns out he was baptised in the Methodist church at 12. He found an emergency baptism rite in the Book of Common Prayer if I get in a hurry.

My Ignorance of Thailand update: I thought Samak Sundaravej (of cooking show fame) was the current prime minister that the protesters occupying the airport were trying to get rid of. But he was out in September. It was his successor pm, Somchai Wongsawat, also considered a puppet (of billionaire Thaksin exiled in 2006), who was just ousted. And the protesters want one-man-one-vote overturned to change to a system of social/business groups having voting power. This seems so foreign to me that I have a hard time wrapping my mind around it. Though it does remind me that I still don't know much about the Electoral College. Yahoo News has not explained the Thai voting distinction very well either.

Comments and Livejournal: I found some other people saying they had experienced this trouble with LJ IDs in Blogger. The response I saw said that in November LJ was supposed to update something soon to fix this. Pretty vague. If I hear about a fix, I'll let you know, AM. Til then, please be my mysteriously anonymous commenter. (Or you could set up a google account.)

Monday, December 1, 2008

Headlong into December

I don’t have my Joy of Cooking at hand today so it’ll be general waffling as usual. Here’s a link to a pithy arts and culture online magazine. Perhaps there will one day be a better word to replace the phrase online magazine. And we need another word (or two) to denote the difference between a collaborative blog and one written by an individual.

Thanksgiving among strangers went very well. Our hosts were generous souls whose farm house was a welcoming place for all of us. Our girls had a great time running around with the other kids and dogs and looking at the farm animals. Katy even got slightly butted by a nanny goat. She was indignant at the time, but now she has something to remember! The food was good and the wine was tasty too. I think I had five small glasses of wine. It induced quite a glow before dinner was served. Dinner was much later than advertised. That part was harder on the kids than for we (beer and wine sozzled) adults. (Next time I would go ahead and fix them a plate rather than trying to fob them off with crackers.) These people are friends of a friend of Nod’s that he met on some virtual forum on polyamory or something like that. Nod tells me that our hostess kept quizzing him about where he and A. had met. She mentioned how open-minded they were several times, but Nod remained cheerfully unforthcoming. He has learned a little discretion in his old age. I liked A. just fine. Our hostess said she recognized me and I finally recalled meeting her at the Unitarian fellowship, she is the youth ed. director there. She is lovely and I think she has five jobs. I enjoyed everyone I interacted with, it was a friendly group.

I made my pumpkin pie the next day. With the all-butter crust. (See here for Smitten Kitchen’s bit that convinced me not to bother with vodka or shortening.) The crust did not drive me to distraction. I didn’t roll it as thin as I should have and it puffed up a little during the blind baking but otherwise it came together nicely. And the pie was magnificent. I need a deeper pie pan, the filling didn’t all fit so I cooked the remainder as a custard. The straining was a pain, just as expected, but the result was worth the extra hoop jumping. I might try cooking the pumpkin filling without the sweet potatoes, that would eliminate the need to strain. I don’t think they add that much flavor. Hmm…

I still have a disc of pie crust. We’ll see if I can roll this one out thinner. But I am not really ready for a pie project right now. Lots of other things to do this month.

We’re going to drive to Austin starting on the 23rd to arrive late on Christmas Eve. We’ll stay for a week and probably leave on the 31st. I want to get a kitten but want to wait until after our vacay – so I’ve been reading posts and almost calling. I think I’d better wait until we’re back. But what if there aren’t any kittens left in town in January?!

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From a discussion about local TV news anchors: “Her published age varies but she’s pushing sixty with a very short stick.” That phrase amuses me greatly, though I do feel obliged to note the sexism inherent in the sentiment.